Canon A550 Review
Canon PowerShot A550 Operation
The Canon A550's user interface is efficient once you learn it. Those already familiar with Canon cameras will feel right at home. Most camera functions are controlled externally, and a few of the external control buttons serve multiple functions depending on the mode you're in. When you do need to enter the LCD menu system, navigation is straightforward with only two main pages of options. The majority of external controls do require the LCD display to be active, but as I mentioned, I don't use the viewfinder much. The A550's external controls cut down on the amount of time spent searching menu screens, and I particularly like the Function menu which gives quick access to commonly used controls. Combined with the instruction manual, the Canon A550's user interface shouldn't take more than an hour to get comfortable with.
Record Mode LCD Display: In Record mode, the Canon A550's LCD reports various exposure settings, including camera modes, the resolution and quality settings, number of available images, ISO, drive mode, and metering mode. Half-pressing the Shutter button reports the aperture and shutter speed settings, in all modes except Movie. Pressing the Display button cycles through the available display modes, including the image only, image with information, and no display at all.
Playback Mode LCD Display: In Playback mode, the Canon A550's LCD reports the image series number, resolution and quality setting, file name, and the date and time of image capture. Pressing the Display button once pulls up an enhanced information display, pressing twice will show a full information display with a histogram for checking the exposure. A third press cancels the information overlay entirely. The telephoto side of the zoom toggle lets you zoom in on a portion of the image, while the wide-angle side backs you out again, and lets you step out to an index view of captured images, displayed as nine thumbnails at a time. Zooming out one step past the point at which the Canon A550's index display appears adds a "jump" bar to the bottom of the screen, letting you jump forward or back nine images at a time, rather than scrolling from each image to the next individually.
Canon PowerShot A550 Modes and Menus
Record Mode: Marked on the Mode button with the red camera icon, this mode sets up the Canon A550 for capturing still and moving images. The following exposure modes are available:
- Manual (M): Provides only a little more control over options and settings. Unlike some of the higher-end A-series cameras, the A550 does not have a true manual exposure mode.
- Auto: The camera controls everything about the exposure, except for Flash and Macro modes, and image size and quality settings.
- Portrait: Uses a large aperture setting to blur the background and keep the primary subject in sharp focus.
- Landscape: Employs a small aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in focus.
- Night Snapshot: Allows you to take snapshots of people against night backgrounds by reducing the effects of camera shake even without using a tripod.
- Kids&Pets: Offers a faster shutter speed for capturing fast moving little ones.
- Indoor: Reduces blur from camera shake and maintains a subjects true color when shooting under tungsten or fluorescent light.
- Scene: Accesses the remaining preset Scene modes, including Night Scene, Foliage, Snow, Beach and Fireworks.
- Movie: Records 640 x 480 at 30 or 15 frames per second, 320 x 240 pixels at 60, 30 or 15 fps, and 160 x 120 at 15fps. Maximum movie clip is 1GB file size or one hour, whichever comes first. Fast Frame 320 x 240 60 fps movies limited to one minute. 160 x 120 movies limited to three minutes.
Record Menu: Pressing the Canon A550's Menu button in Record mode pulls up the following options (not all options are available in all modes):
- AiAF: Turns the AiAF system on or off. If on, the camera judges focus based on the subject's proximity to nine focus areas arrayed in the center of the image. If off, the camera bases focus on the very center of the frame.
- Digital Zoom: Sets standard digital zoom, no zoom, or a zoom that starts at 1.5x or 1.9x, even when you're at wide angle.
- Slow Synchro: The flash timing is adjusted to slower speeds, reducing the chance that only the background will appear dark when a night scene shot is taken.
- Red-Eye Reduction: Turns the Red-Eye Reduction pre-flash on or off, which works with all flash modes.
- Self-timer: Sets self-timer to 10- or 2-second mode, or sets Custom mode, where you can set up to a 30 second delay, and between 1 and 10 shots per cycle.
- AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions.
- Review: Turns the instant image review function on or off, with available image display times from two to 10 seconds in one second steps, or Hold to keep the image on until you press the shutter button or turn the camera off.
- Display Overlay: Toggles among a display of grid lines, a 3:2 aspect ratio mask (for framing 4x6 images), or both.
- Date Stamp: Only available in Postcard mode (set via the Function menu), allows printing of Date or Date and Time on photo.
Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images and movies on the memory card, as well as erase them, protect them, or tag them for printing and transfer. The traditional green Playback symbol denotes this mode on the Mode switch. Pressing the Canon A550's Menu button displays the following options:
- Auto Play: Automatically plays all captured images in a slide show.
- Sound Memo: Records a short sound clip to accompany a captured image.
- Protect: Marks the current image for write-protection, or removes write-protection. Protected images cannot be deleted or manipulated, except through card formatting, which erases all files.
- Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 or 270 degrees clockwise.
- Erase All: Erases all files on the memory card, except protected ones.
- Transfer Order: Marks images to be transferred to a computer later.
Print Menu: This menu is available in the Canon A550's Playback mode, simply by pressing the Menu button and selecting the Print tab. The bottom line of the display shows how many images are selected for printing and the print method that is active.
- Print: Sends images tagged for printing to the printer.
- Select Images & Quantity: Allows you select images for printing and set the number of prints for each image selected.
- Select All Images: Selects all images on the memory card for printing.
- Clear All Selections: Clears all print selections.
- Print Settings: Brings up a menu of these options:
- Print Type: You can specify whether to print one image per page, an index of the images, or both.
- Date: Set printing of the date and time on or off.
- File No.: Set printing of the file number on or off.
- Clear DPOF data: Set the option to clear the DPOF tag on or off.
Setup Menu: This menu is available in all exposure modes, simply by pressing the Canon A550's Menu button and selecting the Setup tab.
- Mute: Turns the camera's start-up, operation, self-timer, shutter and playback sounds on and off.
- Volume: Displays the volume settings for the camera's start-up, operation, self-timer, shutter, and playback sounds.
- Startup image: Turns startup image display on or off.
- Power Saving: Accesses the camera's Auto Power Down and Display Off settings. Power Down can be enabled or disabled, and Display Off can be set to 10 / 20 / 30 seconds, or 1 / 2 / 3 minutes.
- Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
- Format: Formats the SD/MMC card, erasing all files (even those marked for write-protection).
- File Numbering: Specifies whether to reset file numbering with each new SDHC/SD/MMC card or continue numbering in sequence, regardless of memory card.
- Create Folder: Specifies whether to capture new images in a new folder or to create a new folder for new images after a certain time.
- Auto Rotate: Specifies whether images appear vertically in the LCD monitor when the camera is held vertically.
- Lens Retract: Selects how long camera waits to retract lens after switching from Record to Playback mode (immediately or after one minute).
- Language: Sets the camera's menu language to one of 25 choices. English is the default setting.
- Video System: Sets the camera's video-out signal as NTSC or PAL.
- Print Method: Specify either Auto or PictBridge as the print method.
- Reset All: Restores factory default settings.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.